by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: davidreid/WikiCommons/CC

FORMER PRESIDENT Chen Shui-bian was acquitted of corruption charges related to misuse of Presidential Office funds earlier today, following changes to the Accounting Act that were pushed for by the DPP. Chen is not cleared of all charges, however, and so this is not equivalent to a de facto pardon for him. 

Chen, who was the first non-KMT president in Taiwanese history, was Taiwan’s first DPP president. Chen’s two terms in office were from 2000 to 2008, following which Chen was jailed on charges regarding corruption and bribery. In particular, Chen’s political rise was tied to the history of the Taiwanese democracy movement, in that Chen was the defense lawyer for the Kaohsiung Eight during the Kaohsiung Incident. 

Nevertheless, Chen was released from jail on medical parole in January 2015. Chen has remained free since then. Yet although the conditions of his medical parole was that Chen could not engage in politics or make media appearances, Chen has sought to test the limits of this. Apart from running a Facebook page originally under the name of his pet dog that he used to make political statements, Chen later started a radio show, though this was framed as being a show that would steer clear of politics. 

Recent Facebook post by Chen Shui-bian

In April, Chen held a press conference proclaiming his innocence regarding accusations of misuse of state funds. Though Chen was accused of misusing 104 million NT for personal gain, Chen showed proof that he claimed showed that 21 payments were made for 133 million NT from the state fund, which were used for lobbying and other diplomatic expenses. The case was then under its second retrial at the Taiwan High Court.

The changes were to Article 99-1 of the Accounting Act. The Accounting Act exempts use, reimbursement, and filing of special allowance funds before December 31, 2006 from punishment and the amendment expanded this to include funds under the purview of the president. The proposal was also backed by the NPP, in addition to the DPP, and passed by a margin of 57 in support to 32 in opposition with zero abstentions. 

Nevertheless, the morning saw contestation in the legislature regarding the bill, with KMT legislators occupying the legislative podium at 7:30 AM to prevent the bill from passing. This resulted in a delay to legislative proceedings. As such, later on in the morning, KMT legislators came into physical conflict with members of the DPP, with KMT legislator Hung Meng-kai and DPP legislator Hung Sun-han both receiving minor injuries, and water bottles were thrown at DPP legislators during the scuffling. In the midst of this, the DPP and KMT also negotiated over the budget for state-owned enterprises, which became a rider to the proposed changes to the Accounting Act in some way. 

DPP majority speaker Ker Chien-ming defended the changes, stating that issues regarding special expenses ultimately went back to practices that dated from the authoritarian era. As for Chen himself, he and his son–Kaohsiung city councilor Chen Chih-chung–have stated that they welcomed the DPP’s actions. Chen Shui-bian framed his name being cleared in line with the significant period of time it took to see justice for major incidents during Taiwan’s democratization, such as the Penglai Island Magazine incident. 

Facebook post by the KMT on today’s actions by the DPP, framing the changes to the Accounting Act alongside COVID-19 issues

Chen remains accused of other charges, including bribery charges over a land deal in Longtan and the appointment of the chair of the Taipei Financial Center Corp. As such, Chen has not been cleared of all guilt. 

Ironically, the KMT originally passed Article 99-1 of the Accounting Act to clear then-president Ma Ying-jeou of charges that dogged him from his days as Taipei mayor, along with other KMT politicians facing similar charges, such as former legislator Yen Ching-piao, who is known for his gang ties. According to Ker, the DPP would have pushed for the purview of Article 99-1 also including presidents in 2011, but with 27 DPP legislators in the Legislative Yuan then compared to the 61 it presently has, it was not able to accomplish this. Nevertheless, perhaps Article 99-1 of the Accounting Act can be seen as another one of the many issues that the DPP and KMT have traded positions on. The DPP apologized in 2013 for the changes. 

The DPP may have hoped to clear Chen of such charges as a gesture towards deep Greens, some of which still strongly support Chen and have called on President Tsai Ing-wen to pardon Chen. On the other hand, the pan-Blue camp may rally around the issue, framing this as an issue of DPP corruption. Indeed, while demonstrating in the legislature today, KMT legislators threw fake money at their DPP counterparts, with the accusation that the DPP benefited from Chen’s corruption or may be bought off by him. 

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